Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Why am I playing Pathfinder?

Because my game group likes 3e and its children (I'm going to refer to them all as 3e because that is easier).

That's basically the only reason. Other than that I would rather play any version of D&D - possibly excepting 4e, which I have never played but does not seem particularly appealing by all accounts. In fact I don't even own any 3e books, all my Pathfinder books are borrowed from one of my players. I own the rules of course to four other editions, and I find lots of uses for them nonetheless.

I don't like 3e. From the first time I saw it when it came out, to actually playing in a few campaigns (of 3.5) to running now my third Pathfinder game I think it is less fun than old-school D&D.

Reasons:

Skills - for all the reasons brilliantly explained by -C here, I think skills basically reduce fun.

Example from my last game session: unknown monster appears in the dungeon (fungal crawler), player rolls knowledge dungeoneering and rolls well. I am faced with a choice: deny them information to preserve the mystery of the dungeon, and punish them for taking "soft skills", or give them information. Well I approve of developing characters with aims other than maximum damage output, so I tell them some tidbits about the fungal crawler, I try to couch it in terms of "you can tell by its grasshopper legs that it is probably quite a jumper" but wouldn't it be more fun to find out first hand?

In theory skills seem great, but in my last days of playing 2e (the rule set I cut my teeth on and played the most of) I dropped nonweapon proficiencies (yes, they are an optional rule!) in favor of secondary skills (which I think are dandy).

Where I like skills is Stars Without Number, but that is a different game and a topic for a different day.

Feats - Unlike almost everyone I know, I hated feats from the moment I saw them. Feats are the reason I never adopted 3e in its heyday.

My feelings towards them have soften somewhat since, but I looked at them at the time and thought: wow, this is terrible. What do feats give us theoretically? Control, character customization, options. But the raise a couple of big problems: first of all, people no longer feel that they need to distinguish their character through roleplaying, now they are distinguished largely by their class powers and feats. ("What are you playing?" [class and list of feats]).

Second, they heavily reward power gamers. In pre-3e D&D power gaming was only marginally rewarded, now player skill at character building leads to great discrepancies in power. The characters of players played by more experienced (or more power game focused) players are mechanically more powerful than those of other players. This is very different than a difference in player skill as thought of in the OSR. In old school D&D you don't know what you are doing, so you kill your character, roll up a new one and learn. In new school D&D you don't know what you are doing so your character sucks and does not get to participate at the same level as other player's characters. This of course can only be remedied by making a new more powerful character. So if you want to have the same amount of fun as the rest of the group, you need to make sure you are carefully optimized as well. One could easily say this is a metagame problem with particular groups, but the root problem is that 3e rewards powergaming so heavily. You tend to get what the game rewards.

More to come.

4 comments:

Alex Schroeder said...

I am happy I made the move away from 3E and Pathfinder. It also meant I had to find new groups to play with, but it paid off. The other guys still play 3E games and everybody wins.

Devin Parker said...

You're not wrong. Though I initially thought feats were pretty cool, I came to dislike them for the same reasons you've outlined. Likewise, I think that Secondary Skills are a far more simple and roleplaying-encouraging solution to the question of skills.

In the end, the two things that convinced me of the problem with feats were being sick of choosing them for NPCs, and realizing that I was at a huge disadvantage because I hadn't memorized all the feats and how they would best complement each other. I don't like systems that force me to learn every iota of them in order to get the best use out of them (rewarding people for learning the rules, as they put it); I just want a system that allows me to play/run the kind of game that I want.

Brendan said...

I have exactly the same opinion about feats, which I detest even more than skills. Any choice that requires consideration of more than 7-10 options during character creation is a failure of game design.

Josh D. said...

Woo, comments!

@Alex

I've thought about finding a new group for sure. I really enjoy gaming with these people though. So despite my rant, there actually is a reason I am playing Pathfinder.

@Devin

Well said! I likewise have very little interest in memorizing rules. I enjoy reading rulebooks, but that is more for the commentary than the mechanics.

@Brendan

Indeed. There is no reason character creation should take hours (which it often does with 3e). I think beyond the number of choices (which was a problem in 2e if you allowed splatbooks) is the interplay of them. It's one thing to select 4 nonweapon proficiencies which probably won't do much in terms of game mechanics, it is quite another to select a few feats can make or break your character where power level is concerned.